The Royal Shakespeare Company has a strong tradition of commissioning original music and using live musicians during its productions.
This showcased the work of the company, its musicians and composers.
A densely woven tapestry of allusion and cross reference combined original music with choreography, spoken word and images, unified by the themes of The Tempest and Ophelia.
An atmosphere of enchantment certainly hung over the first half, where the ‘thousand twangling instruments’ of the magic isle were reduced for this evening to 17 musicians and three singers as well as dancers and actors from the company, led by musical directors, Bruce O’Neil and John Woolf.
We were plunged immediately into the terrors of the whirlpool in the first of the evening’s premieres, Michael Cryne’s Between Scylla and Charybdis. Vividly scored, with restless string tremolandos and trills giving way to imitative virtuoso passages and Xenakis-like eruptions, this graphic, brightly coloured piece finished as it started, with a tam-tam crescendo.
Its sureness of touch was echoed in all of the musical contributions whatever their musical style. Craig Armstrong’s Tempest Music which also featured John Woolf’s Ariel Songs was a strong contrast in its austere and grave beauty, its chaste chamber scoring providing an antique otherworldliness.
For The Island by Martin Suckling the orchestra was wrapped around the audience in the galleries. Single notes and figures were swapped across the auditorium, growing into new shapes, given new resonances from piano and percussion with wisps and tendrils of themes leading off into unexpected directions.
Stephen Warbeck’s The Death of Ophelia with its jazz inflected colouring was moving and spare, featuring a haunting trumpet solo.
Imaginatively devised with skilful performances, this was a demanding but rewarding evening.